Grisly rhino shot wins top photography prize

Valuable: Rhino horn is worth more than gold in China and Vietnam. © NHM/Brent Stirton, 2017.

Can a photograph change the world? Yesterday this image Memorial to a Species won a major award. Rhino horns are believed by some to be a cure for cancer and high blood pressure.

A dead rhino lies with his face in the mud. Where his two majestic horns once were, now there remains only a gruesome mess of blood and tissue.

Poachers shot the black rhino bull in the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi game reserve in South Africa, before hacking off his horns to be smuggled to China or Vietnam. Three rhinos are killed every day in southern Africa, to meet the demand coming from the Far East for their horns.

“Rhinos are just one of many species that we are losing at a highly accelerated rate,” said Brent Stirton, the South African photographer who took the picture. “I am grateful that the jury would choose this image because it gives this issue another platform.”

It is not the first time that an amazing image has captured our attention. The photo of Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless on a Greek beach prompted an outpouring of generosity as donations to refugee charities flooded in. Many think that it was the photo of Kurdi that prompted David Cameron to promise to take in more Syrian refugees.

Nearly 50 years earlier, Nick Ut’s photo of nine-year-old Kim Phuc fleeing a napalm blast symbolised the suffering of the Vietnamese people in the war against America, deepening the unpopularity of the conflict.

In 1989 the government of China sent tanks to brutally kill hundreds of workers, students and children in a crackdown on the pro-democracy protest in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. A small, unknown, unexceptional figure stood bravely in protest in front of the tanks. As Time magazine reported it, "A lone Chinese hero revived the world's image of courage." It is when history disguises itself as allegory that the camera writes it best.

Pulitzer-prize winning photojournalist Renée Byer often speaks about the power of photography to tell stories, to move us to compassion, to open our eyes to the world that surrounds us. “For me photography isn’t a profession,” she says. “It goes much much deeper than that.”

So, can photos really change the world?

T-horny question

For photographer Donna Ferrato, who photographs domestic violence, there is virtually no limit to the power of images. “I believe that photographs have the power to change many things — change laws, change the minds of society, change people,” she says.

But war photojournalist Eros Hoagland thinks otherwise. “My pictures and the pictures of my colleagues, they don’t really change anything,” he argues. “You want to help people? Become a doctor and work in some poor neighbourhood.”

You Decide

  1. Will this photograph change the world?
  2. What is the point of a photo?


  1. How does the picture of the rhino make you feel? Spend two minutes looking at it and thinking, then write 100 words in response to the image.
  2. Pick a different endangered animal (there are more than 16,000 endangered species, so you won't struggle to find one). Research your animal and make a presentation about why it is worth looking after and how you propose to save it from extinction. Share your ideas with the class.

Some People Say...

“Photography cannot change the world, but it can show the world, especially when it changes.”

Marc Riboud, French photographer

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Black rhinos are critically endangered. It was estimated in 2015 that only 5,000 remained in the wild. Back in the 1970s, it was thought that there were around 65,000 rhinos, but wars, hunting and increasing demand for land all contributed to the rapid decline in their numbers.
What do we not know?
We do not know if we can save the rhino from extinction. Measures including harsher prison sentences for poachers and “poisoning” the horn of the rhino (so it is unsellable) have been suggested. In August this year, South Africa held its first rhino horn auction after the sale of the horns was legalised in April. The animals had their horns removed under anaesthetic, but they will grow back.

Word Watch

The market for rhino horn is driven by the idea in traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine that it can cure illnesses.
Aylan Kurdi
The three-year-old’s family were fleeing ISIS in Syria in 2015 when their boat sank in the Mediterranean. His five-year-old brother and mother also died.
The Swedish Red Cross received 14 times as many donations for Syrian refugees following the release of the photo of Aylan Kurdi.
Syrian refugees
Just a few days after the photo of Kurdi emerged in 2015, David Cameron promised to take in 20,000 more Syrian refugees by 2020. But last year, the Independent reported that only around 2,800 refugees had been accepted so far.
A flammable liquid which sticks to skin, causing severe burns to victims.
North Vietnam was supported by Russia and China in their fight against South Vietnam, which was supported by the USA. The war lasted for nearly 20 years, and ended with victory for the North Vietnamese.
The photo of Kim Phuc was not taken until 1972, but the withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam had already begun by 1969.


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